“Oh! if only all men were wise
And all of them meant well!
The Earth to them would be Paradise,
But now it’s mostly Hell.”
(Engraved on a tablet in Spinoza’s house in Rijnsburg)
I was roaming around The Hague’s Chinatown when I spotted a big church surrounded by a simple but beautiful garden, with slightly overgrown grass and enormous trees that stretched out their branches in a silent embrace. The gates of the garden were open, and you could spot the odd person taking a stroll or sitting on the grass. A sign at the entrance said that it was the Nieuwe Kerk. Built in 1649, it is the perfect example of early Protestant architecture in The Netherlands. Nowadays it has been transformed into a concert hall.
The church was closed though, so I headed back towards the gate. Only then did I notice a big tombstone on the side of the garden. Despite its size it’s so embedded into the general ambiance of the greenery that I almost missed it. I stopped to read the inscription and was surprised to find out that it was the grave of one of the philosophers that I most admire, Baruch de Espinoza, also known as Spinoza. The son of Portuguese Jews who fled from the inquisition to The Netherlands, he came up with a theory that, roughly speaking, equaled God to the mechanism behind the laws of nature. This and other unorthodox theories resulted in being shunned by his community, which means that he was forever banned from the company of his fellow Jews, including his own family.
Making a modest living grinding lenses for the microscope and telescope, this brilliant thinker lived in The Hague in a house on Paviljoensgracht 72-74, nowadays open to the public as the Domus Spinozana. There he worked on two of his most well known pieces, the Ethics and his Political Treatise. In this city he also met with the British philosopher Leibniz, to discuss his work, mainly the Ethics. Known for living a modest life, dedicated to his writing and philosophical theories, he died at the age of forty four of a lung illness and, it seems, ended up in this peaceful Catholic graveyard. I observed the place for a while more, taking in the church, the grass and trees, thankful for the sunlight that bathed us all in its warmth. My heart went out to the young philosopher buried in that rich earth. Then I took my leave, with a sense of acute inner enrichment.
This is a guest post by Catarina Queiroz. It has also appeared on http://www.thehagueonline.com. Catarina is Portuguese blogger that writes mostly about travel and family life. Besides Portugal she has lived in South Africa, Botswana and the Netherlands. She has a B.A. in Philosophy and is also a trained teacher. Traveling, for leisure and cultural enrichment, and reading, especially crime and historical novels, are her passions. You can visit her blog here: http://www.bycatarina.com